The fate of Blair's damp little secret

Sept. 22, 2002, midnight | By Annie Peirce | 18 years, 3 months ago

Behind the baseball field, hidden behind the football bleachers, is a .66 acre plot of water, plants, trees, and wildlife that make up Blair's endangered wetland. The air is humid and the plants are often prickly and painful, but the mostly forgotten wetland is an essential part of the health of Blair's campus.

According to US Environmental Protection Agency's mitigation monitoring team that surveyed the site on Wednesday, September 18, Blair's wetland has shown improvement since its precarious beginning four years ago when the campus was built, but there are still many changes that must be made. A precise report of Blair's wetland's present condition will be available in June.

When Blair's wetland was first constructed in 1999 as an outdoor classroom, the site was a mess. The work completed by the contractor did not include a boardwalk originally planned to encourage outdoor study and, also due to budget concerns there was not a trained individual present on site during the wetland's grading, stabilization, and planting.

Section 404 of the Clean Water Act establishes that any destruction of a wetland during the construction of a building must be replaced by a wetland of equal size elsewhere. Since Blair was constructed on top of a wetland, a new wetland was constructed at the back of the property. To make sure that the wetland continues to function properly, a monitoring team surveys the wetland for the first five years and then suggests needed improvements.

The 1999 Wetland Mitigation Monitoring Report, conducted by US Environmental Systems Analysis Inc. (ESA) in accordance with national Section 404 Clean Water Act regulations, reports that as a result of Montgomery County budget decisions during construction, the wetland was in overall "poor" condition. The water was too high, water quality was too poor for life, and a layer of unconsolidated sediments lay on the bottom. These poor conditions resulted in most of the originally planted vegetation dying and a tree survival rate of only 11%.

The 2000 Wetland Mitigation Monitoring Report of Blair's wetland showed only slight improvement. Only two of the eleven trees had survived and, although conditions of the water were improving, invasive foreign plant species were crowding out all the native plant diversity. Due to efforts of science resource teacher Marilyn Leung, there was reported to be an only a small amount of trash around the wetland.

By 2001, the pond was still too deep and the wetland was still not meeting the originally intended criteria, but the number of plants had increased and the algae bloom was less severe. The 24 trees planted by the Anacostia Watershed Society earlier that year had also survived.

According to Leung, the monitors this year noticed further improvements to the wetland, but there are still far too many cattail plants growing in the water. Regulations state that there should not be more than 30% of one species in the wetland, and the cattails almost cover several of the wetland's ponds.

Although the wetland was originally planned to be an outdoor classroom, lack of space and limited access discourage most teachers from bringing their classes to the wetland. Leung brings her biology and environmental science classes down several times a year to pick up trash or collect samples of plants, but she does not encourage other teachers to do so. She describes the situation as a "two-edged sword:" the lack of the planned boardwalk makes it hard to access and when students do go to the wetland, the small area makes them inevitably trample much of the plant life.

There is little, Leung says, that individual students can do to help Blair's wetland. The most obvious course of student action would be to not throw away any trash onto school grounds because most of it ends up in the wetland, but almost all major improvements must be fixed by the appropriate officials within the Montgomery County Public Schools administration.

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Annie Peirce. Annie Peirce is a senior in the Communications Arts Program and the public relations manager for Silver Chips. She is also an opinions editor for Silver Chips Online. She was born on October 25, 1984, in a hospital somewhere in Prince George's County; but doesn't … More »

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